17 May 2002

Co-operate in food chain to meet customer needs

By John Burns

THE need for farmers, abattoir-processors and retailers to work more closely together was the theme of Sheep South West at Arlington, north Devon.

Kim Brown, lamb buyer for event sponsor Sainsburys, told a seminar that changing consumers shopping habits and attitudes to food had made close co-operation along the food chain inevitable. Without it Sainsburys could not deliver what many of its customers now wanted.

She said many more customers were looking for ready meals. "And they are more clued up on food integrity and the idea of British meat." Sainsburys was looking at pioneering integrity standards, including some agricultural elements. That could not be achieved without Sainsburys technical teams, processors and producers co-operating, she added.

Questioned By FW Farmer Focus contributor Peter Delbridge on whether trust could be developed in a food chain whose components had traditionally lived by squeezing the next link down the chain, Ms Brown said: "I think it will improve in future. There is much more recognition that we all need to be clear about what we are working on together. Retailers need producers."

When asked if Sainsburys took account of extra production costs in meeting its requirements, she said that element was left to the processor to deal with.

David Maunder, chairman of processors Lloyd Maunder, also sponsoring the event, gave examples of how his company was working closely with selected producers to develop West Country-branded lamb. The range was recently launched in Sainsburys, as part of the stores "Taste the Difference" range.

Ms Brown said the premium price range was a high integrity product, which involved different butchery, harder trimming and a different specification.

On price, she said: "We want both organic, which showed fivefold growth on promotion last year, and Taste the Difference ranges in our stores, but there is a limit to what consumers will pay." She also said the company was reconsidering forward pricing for lamb. "But when we tried it before producers did not want it."

Later, Mr Maunder told farmers weekly that government hopes that model codes of practice such as benchmarking costs at each stage in the food chain were unrealistic. He did not believe any processor would be willing to reveal its costs. &#42

&#8226 More integrity needed.

&#8226 Branded products.

&#8226 But extra costs?

Meat integrity is demanded by consumers who are keen to buy Taste the Difference West Country lamb, says Kim Brown.